This impressive photo of a Bakutu woman was taken by C. Lamote (a Congopresse photographer in the Belgian Congo) ca. 1957 in Tshuapa, Bodende. Below two examples of such headdresses from the Ginzberg collection. These were worn by noble Kutu women of elevated rank on top of their heads, with the flaps down along the sides of the face. Beads or upholstery tacks were fixed on a stiff fiber framework. (African Forms, Milan, 2000: p. 239)
I recently discovered the fascinating website of Petra Schütz & Detlef Linse documenting their travels through Lobi-country in Burkina Faso. You can find it here; it’s great for the armchair-traveller. Going through these photos, I discovered the presence of Dogon ladders on some of these pictures. At least, a type of ladders often offered for sale as Dogon in the trade (examples 1, 2, 3). Clearly, the Lobi made use of very similar ladders, but apparently those of the Dogon are valued higher. Personally, I can’t tell the difference.
A few years ago, when I was still actively contributing to the Yale University – Van Rijn – Archive of African art, the German dealer Boris Kegel-Konietzko allowed us to include the field-photos from his travels through Songye-land in the database. The above picture, taken at Kabinda in 1959, was included in the batch. Of course, I did not hesitate to browse through the thousands of Songye figures in the archive to check if I could find this figure back. Great was my suprise, when I discovered this statue was now, in a slightly different state, in Yale’s own collection. Being part of the Benenson collection, it was donated to the Yale University Art Gallery in 2006 – without the Kegel-Konietzko provenance! Thanks to this picture of the figure at its time of collection, we now know it was originally dressed with an animal skin and partly wrapped in a cotton cloth. The attached smaller figures were also original to the figure. Both field-photo and figure are published in Frederick J. Lamp’s catalogue of the Benenson collection, Accumulating Histories (p. 149).
Earlier this month the Colin Sayers collection of African art was auctioned by Stephan Welz & Co. in Cape Town. You can read a tribute to the man here. The above Luba bowl bearer was the top lot of the sale and sold for € 18,000 (including premium). Most likely it was carved by by Kitwa Biseke, official carver to the Nkulu chieftainship (Mwanzi region). Many mboko from this workshop are known, but this one was a new addition to the corpus. More info can be found in an article by A. Nettleton: Burton’s Luba Mboko: Reflections of Reality, The Collection of WFP Burton (University of the Witwatersrand Art Galleries, Johannesburg, 1992, pp 51-67).
Below another mboko from this workshop published in African Fetishes and Ancestral Objects, together with a field-photo of the carver in action by Burton – click on the picture to zoom.
Featured in the upcoming Zemanek-Münster auction on 22 March, this spectacular Mongo drum (lot 579) is one of my personal highlights from the sale. 121 cm high, the upper and lower part are carved in steps, a typical feature of these drums. The interplay between the black and white planes enforces the geometric character of this drum substantially. It was published in Belgium collects African art (p. 290), while being in the Damian Reeners collection. I only know a handful other drums like this. This example is an excellent condition for its age.
Everybody knows the classic icons and masterpieces of African art by now; which makes an encounter with an object that doesn’t belong to this canon just yet always very captivating. The moment I saw the above object for the first time a couple of years ago, I could not take my eyes of it. It doesn’t matter how much (or less) one knows about the art of the Fon, the strength that radiates from this piece is mesmerizing. The two raised naturalistic hands parallel to the shaft of the miniature recade, with its top raising above the scene, is a stroke of genius. Measuring 18,5 cm, this 19th century brass element once decorated an asen, a Fon altar dedicated to the ancestors. It was placed on a circular metal tray raised on a pick (now lost). The form of the scepter seen between the two hands refers to the hammer and anvil which symbolize King Guezo (1818-1858). This piece comes from King Glele’s descendants. The brass was probably manufactured by the Hountondji family of blacksmiths who worked exclusively for the royal court of Abomey. This object was featured in Serge Schoffel’s Fon exhibition during the last Brafa in Brussels (info); it came from the private collection of Ann De Pauw and Luc Huysveld (Amma Tribal Art, Antwerp) and is also featured in the exhibition’s catalogue.
A nice slide show, compiled by Marco Barina and clearly inspired by Rubin’s magnus opus Primitivism, showcasing the metamorphoses of the human face and body from the most varied cultures through art history. View it here.
This long, long journey back in time begins with Lucy, the first hominid whose remains are preserved at the National Museum in Addis Ababa. Our journey from the remotest of times to the present day begins from this “primary” image. Through sudden leaps that juxtapose distant epochs and civilizations, the forms in which human beings depict themselves reveal immediate yet “mysterious” resonances…
An error often made in the trade concerns the attribution of the above type of figures. They are often mistakenly listed as Montol, or even Chamba. In fact, they originate from the Angas (Ngas), the largest ethnic group on the Jos Plateau and neigbours of the Montol. They are situated in the Eastern escarpment of the Jos-Highland Plateau. It’s an easily recognizable style, clearly distinguishable from the more chunky Montol iconography. It was Barry Hecht, a renowned collector of Nigerian art, who informed me about this general misconception. Martial Bronsin confirmed this attribution to a private collector from Brussels. Most likely these figures were used in a context similar to the Komtin cult from the Montol. In Central Nigeria Unmasked, a book discussing Middle Benue sculpture, not a single reference to the Angas can be found. For now, I haven’t been able to find any relevant literature. Any further information about this type of sculpture is thus very welcome.
An object you don’t often come across at auction, a talking drum from the Yoruba. The above example was acquired in the palace of the Oba of Oyo in the early 1960s and will be sold by Dorotheum next month; more info here.
In case you were wondering how they sound… (trust me, you’ll be amazed by the sound they can produce)
I just discovered an interesting article on the process of making Putchu Guinadji talisman by the Kotoko people in Cameroon and Chad. Apparently the process of making such talisman had not been recorded up to now.
After putting together a fine collection of “Putchu Guinadji”, miniature horsemen or warriors made of bronze, silver, copper, or brass, for my museum, I became curious about these talismans that were supposedly used by mad people among the Kotoko people in Cameroon and Chad, near the Lake Chad basin, along the Logone and Chan rivers.
There is as good as no literature on the Putchu Guinadji or on their makers, the Kotoko people. Pierluigi Peroni, a collector in Italy, has published two beautiful art books on his outstanding collection but has no description of how these horsemen were activated or used. My curiosity was awakened. No photos exist of these pieces being used, and no texts explain their spiritual activation or how they are used. On December 7,2012 I flew to Cameroon with the goal of unraveling the secret of the Putchu Guinadji.
Continue reading here.